Monday, 3 March 2008

PBH at 60 (part two)

What a difference a day makes, as the old song goes. And never more appropriately, as the second night of the Edinburgh leg of Peter Buckley Hill’s 60th birthday celebrations could not have been more different from the first if it had tried. In one way this was a good thing, as there was certainly a larger audience making the room look rather less threadbare. But unfortunately it was not all good news.

PBH started the night off again with a mix of banter and comedy songs, a much longer set than the previous night and this, I suspect, had a lot to do with the gentleman sitting front and centre who unfortunately seemed unfamiliar with the concept of a comedy show and spent the entire performance trying to join in. The result was that every time PBH had started to build momentum and get the mood of the room rising, a wholly inappropriate interruption at exactly the wrong moment would ruin whatever payoff he was building to, and he would have to start all over again.

The problem, of course, is that when you are trying to run a friendly gig in a small room, a harsh put-down could have killed the mood altogether, and the result was that he just had to try to work around the problem, throwing out an admonition to “heckle in the gaps” and leaving it at that.

Matters were not improved by the appearance of David Heffron. An experienced club circuit comedian, I can only imagine he had chosen the night to try out some new material, because he looked hesitant and unsure of himself from the very beginning. Whatever the reason, his set simply didn’t work, and he was obviously aware of this himself and began casting around for something that would bring the laughs, causing his performance to become jumpy and slightly incoherent. A big closing laugh, however, just about managed to rescue things for him.

Being fair to the two comics who followed, both were members of the Edinburgh University sketch comedy team Comedy and That, and as such I assume neither have any particular club experience. Mike Walsh, first up, was a young Irishman who was clearly heavily influenced by Dylan Moran, to the extent that he had appropriated many of his mannerisms, right down to the red wine glass that he splashed around in his hand throughout his performance. This is not necessarily a bad thing, most comedians start out aping the people who inspired them, and Walsh had some good moments, albeit using the old comedy standby of comparing Irish and British culture, and he showed enough promise that, once he begins to develop into a style of his own, I imagine he may do well.

Ben Kerth, who followed, was equally promising. Again, a lack of stage experience showed, but he started out strongly, and for the first half of his act, at least, brought the audience fully to life, something that had been lacking up until that point. His material listing different ways his rather hirsute appearance had been described was very good, (particularly “the fat girl from the Magic Numbers,) and although he began to fade towards the end of his set, he gave easily the best performance of the first half of the night.

Now I’m going to start my description of Mickey Anderson with a caveat. In preparing to write this review I watched a couple of clips of him in action on YouTube, and in both he was very good. But a comedian needs to know what is going to work for him, and in neither clip was he performing the bizarre choice of material he presented us with on Saturday night. Because for some unfathomable reason, perhaps it was supposed to be post-modern irony but if so I didn’t get it, after a good opening minute or two, he launched into a set of material about how old he was getting. And it wasn’t that the material was bad, it might very well have worked if the audience hadn’t had their eyes open and were thus fully aware that he appeared to have barely passed the age of puberty. He even commented himself at one point that he was possibly the youngest person in the room, which should probably have given him a clue that this material quite simply was never going to work. I’d be interested in seeing him again, performing a different set, because he did look promising, but I’d have to advise him to dump this particular set of material in the nearest wastebin as soon as humanly possible, and don’t revisit it for at least another twenty years.

As for Peter Aitchison, given the feel of the room at this point, an attempt at topical political comedy was probably not the best idea. Aitchison spent the majority of his set working his way through the news of the day making witty remarks about each story, but to be honest what was really needed at this point was tried and tested material. An attempt to liven things up by creating a lonely-hearts ad for himself using audience suggestions worked slightly better and gave him a decent ending to his set, and managed to give the first half of the night a reasonable round-off.

The second half kicked off with Gordon Brunton, and I can’t help wishing he had been introduced a lot earlier. I think the reason he was kept to this point was from the experience of the previous night and realising that there might be a need for someone with the ability to fill. But the fact is that from the moment he took to the stage he breathed energy into the whole night. Clearly a seasoned and experienced performer, he worked the audience superbly well and brought the room fully to life. Being a cohort of PBH from way back, he told stories of the early days of the Free Fringe which gave his set a topical feel, and despite performing the longest set of the evening, you felt he could have kept going all night if he had been asked to.

Graham Thomas closed the night, having rushed straight down from performing at The Stand, and, building on the good start, kept the momentum going with a motormouth performance. Like his predecessor he got in among the audience and managed to connect with a set that felt less like a well rehearsed monologue and more like an over-excitable mate whose mouth was running away with him.

So overall, fifteen acts, or sixteen including the man himself, performing over two night free of charge was nothing to be sneezed at, and the good moments certainly outweighed those less so. And with a free CD on the way out, how could you possibly complain. PBH has been organising nights like these for long enough now to know that there are always going to be ups and downs in any hastily thrown together show, and the main thing is that as long as everyone has fun then you can call it a success, and that was certainly the case here.

And so it only remains to say Happy Birthday Sir, I hope it’s a good one for you certainly deserve it. And here’s to many more years of bringing comedy to the people, and keeping it real.

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